Oklahoma Makes Progress in Holding Opioid Makers and Distributors Accountable

Oklahoma capitol

Oklahoma’s Justice Department recently announced the finalization of a new settlement with one opioid manufacturer and three pharmaceutical chains and distributors. But will the settlement funds that Oklahoma wins from the case be enough to help the state’s addicts? And will the funds be used for that purpose?

Details of the Case

“The opioid crisis has inflicted unspeakable pain on Oklahoma families and caused the deaths of thousands of Oklahomans. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 3,000 Oklahomans died from opioid overdoses.” That is a direct quote from Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor when his office announced a successful settlement deal between the State of Oklahoma and drugmaker Allergan and pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. With the $226 million garnered from this latest settlement, Oklahoma will have received more than $900 million total from opioid makers, distributors, and pharmacies to help address the state’s opioid crisis.

law and money

This announcement comes on the heels of a November legal victory in which Oklahoma and several other states succeeded in procuring large settlements from other pharma giants. Nationwide, it is estimated that states, individuals, and the federal government have succeeded in procuring about $50 billion in settlement funds from pharma corporations. And while every corporation sued by Oklahoma’s AG agreed to settle with the state, none has come forward and admitted wrongdoing.

Critically, the AG announced that almost all of the settlement funds would be used by the State of Oklahoma to fund prevention and treatment services for residents. In this way, AG O’Connor carries the mantle of former AG Mike Hunter, the first state AG to reach a settlement with Purdue Pharma. That 2019 settlement was for about $270 million, and most of the settlement funds were used to establish a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa.

Prescription Drug Addiction in Oklahoma Is a Crisis of Epic Proportions

Oklahoma has been particularly aggressive in pursuing litigation with the corporate giants that made OxyContin and the other prescription opioid painkillers that, in part, created the opioid epidemic. Part of the reason Oklahoma has been so aggressive in its efforts is that the Sooner State is one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis. For example:

  • About two Oklahomans die from prescription drug overdoses every day.
  • Approximately 5% of the population of Oklahoma abuses prescription painkillers.
  • For Oklahoma residents ages 25 to 64, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death.
  • Oklahomans exceed the national average for misuse and abuse of painkillers by 232%.
  • Oklahoma ranks eighth nationally for prescription drug addiction and fifth for drug overdose mortality.
  • Of Oklahoma’s top ten prescribed narcotic drugs, five are opioid painkillers, and three are benzodiazepines.
  • About 400-500 Oklahomans die from prescription ODs yearly, more than meth, heroin, and cocaine combined.

It’s also worth mentioning that only 1,500 of the approximately 16,000 people who are licensed to write narcotics prescriptions in Oklahoma prescribe 75% of all controlled prescriptions in the state. Part of the reason Oklahoma has such a bad prescription drug addiction problem is that opioid painkillers are readily available in the state, and they’re being prescribed at a maddening rate. Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to this point, saying, “No one thinks having a few beers and an Oxycontin is a good idea, but you also don’t expect to die—even though all too often, that’s exactly what happens. However, while education, disposal schemes, and monitoring programs have enormous potential, none of them address the root problem: why so many painkillers are prescribed in the first place.” In addition to holding pharma giants accountable for flooding the state with opioids, Oklahoma policymakers and justice department officials must also correct the rampant overprescribing in the state.

Oklahomans Who Are Addicted Need Help Now

helping addict

Efforts to hold pharma giants accountable and to reduce overprescribing of opioids in Oklahoma are all steps in the right direction and should be supported by the public. However, the state will never resolve its addiction crisis until it helps every opioid addict in Oklahoma get off drugs.

That’s why the core mission behind efforts by policymakers and justice department officials should always be to help those addicted to drugs in the state. Oklahoma should use settlement monies won in litigation with pharma giants to fund treatment centers and prevention programs, as doing so will help end Oklahoma’s addiction epidemic.


  • USNews. “Oklahoma AG Announces 4 New Opioid Settlements Worth $226M.” US News, 2023. usnews.com
  • OKDrugPolicy. “Prescription Drug Abuse in Oklahoma.” OK Drug Policy, Oklahoma Policy Institute, 2014. oklahoma.gov
  • OKPolicy. “Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem isn’t what you think.” OKPolicy, Oklahoma Policy Institute, 2014. okpolicy.org



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.